It’s the day of my bridal shower, and I’m tired, sweaty, and dirty, with sore arms and an aching back. It’s a first-world problem that will win me no sympathy from the 99 percent of you with bigger problems, but the day of my shower is also the day my fiance and I need to vacate our Nassau Street apartment and move into the house we recently purchased in Princeton. I have until mid-afternoon to shuttle boxes and furniture up and down Route 206, and then I have to get ready for a party.
Not that I mind a party, and this one started off the right way — with drinks. Specifically, Saratinis, which are far from a run-of-the-mill drink with a cute name. A Saratini is a truly delicious, original concoction. The recipe: start with an oleo-saccharum (oily sugar) of orange peel, lemon peel, lemon verbena leaves, and superfine sugar. Mix with fresh-squeezed orange and lemon juice, lavender-infused vodka, and triple sec. Serve in a chilled, sugar-rimmed glass. Garnish with a lemon verbena leaf. Offer plentiful refills.
And — almost forgot — give everyone a personalized apron so they don’t spill that or anything else on themselves. You see, I’m not at a posh lounge or a fancy restaurant. I’m at the home of Marcia Willsie, who, with help from her husband, Bruce, runs Ezekiel’s Table (ezekielstable.com), a unique sort of cooking school that offers classes for small groups that double as the best dinner party you’ll ever attend.
Most people pay for the fun of a night preparing from scratch and devouring a gourmet meal. I, on the other hand, have the good fortune of being well acquainted with the Willsies’ close friends and neighbors, my grandparents. My evening at Ezekiel’s Table was a one-of-a-kind wedding and shower gift.
The theme of the night was Pacific Northwest, since my fiance and I are headed to Vancouver and Seattle for our honeymoon. (There’s first-world problem number two: our original plans for an extravagant honeymoon to Florence were derailed by the expense of purchasing a home. I’ll cry myself a river.) The menu included granny smith, fennel, and juniper berry salad; cedar plank salmon; wild rice with wild mushrooms; yellow and blue corn bread; rhubarb upside-down cake; and Grand Marnier-and-crystallized-ginger gelato.
At 5 p.m. two of my bridesmaids and a handful of close relatives arrived, not knowing what to expect and many of them not knowing each other. While everyone sipped on Saratinis, Marcia introduced herself, her cooking school, and the recipes we would be working with. Along the way we learned some useful things, like how to mix bleach and water to produce an all-purpose cleaner, the right way to hold a knife and chop an onion into evenly sized chunks, and the amount of touching that goes on in a professional kitchen to tell people you are behind them with something hot or sharp.
We divided into groups of two or three to tackle the different parts of the meal. My grandmother paired with one of my bridesmaids. Not the one who has known her since we were both in fifth grade, but rather the one who had met her only once, for less than a minute. They bonded over spilled sugar as they created flawless upside down cakes. (Hint: heat oil in cast iron tins before you add the dough for the crust — it will help crisp the outside. Same goes for corn bread.)
I worked with my maid of honor on the salmon and rice. I have never zested so many lemons in one sitting, or seen quite so pretty and pink a six-pound slab of salmon filet (thank you, Nassau Street Seafood). We chopped onions, carrots, and garlic, and tore apart wild mushrooms that you would barely recognize as mushrooms, let alone edible ones.
My mother and future mother-in-law shared laughs over their struggles to cut up fennel and apples the way the professional chef did and to properly whisk the vinaigrette (hint: a silicone whisk will emulsify it faster than a metal one). Or was it the crushed juniper berries — they taste just like gin — which are said to have hallucinogenic qualities? No matter: no one in attendance was a big fan of fennel or granny smiths, and everyone devoured every bite of the salad.
One of my dad’s sisters worked with my mom’s younger sister, whom she had not seen for more than a decade, and niece, whom she had never met. They labored over an ice cream maker to create a mouth-wateringly good gelato that was the perfect end to the meal.
The premise for the party was that I would learn how to prepare a meal that I would want to make for my future husband. The end result was an overwhelming consensus that this was the best bridal shower — or even best party — not to mention best meal that I or any of the other guests could have imagined.
And there’s first-world problem number three: I’m having an awfully hard time figuring out an appropriate way to express my — and my friends’ and family’s — gratitude for such an extraordinary party. How about a thank-you column? I’ll whip one right up.